Emmy Award is secondary to former judge’s mission

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 126 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — Mary Ann Gunn took some quiet time on her back porch Monday (June 25) to let it sink in.

She’d been home less than 24 hours from California, where she won a daytime Emmy Award for her reality-based legal/court series Last Shot with Judge Gunn.

“I wondered how, or if, my life is going to change,” pondered Gunn, a former circuit judge who took her locally televised Washington County Drug Court to a nationally syndicated audience less than a year ago. The show follows the no-nonsense Gunn as she presides over a drug-court program that gives users a chance at treatment.

She beat out heavies like America’s Court with Judge Ross, Judge Joe Brown and We the People with Gloria Allred, all of which Gunn considers “TV icons.” Standing outside the Beverly Hilton Hotel Saturday (June 23,) she wasn’t even sure how to cross the red carpet and unwittingly got some pointers from the wife Dr. Drew (Pinksy).

“She said, ‘Take [the photographers and interviewers] in groups,” recalled Gunn.

On Monday afternoon, Gunn was back in the North College Avenue law office she shares with her daughter, Christian, who serves as Last Shot’s Arkansas producer.

“She called me yesterday and said, “Did that really happen last night?’” Mary Ann said of Christian. The two and the rest of the crew were on hand to accept the award. Gunn said she was shocked to be nominated, much less picked.

Without an agent or publicist, reaching the television judge was as easy as picking up the phone. She didn’t start drug court or take it to a national level because she wanted to be in the spotlight. She said she did it because she wants to make “drug court” household words and to give crime-prone addicts a chance to turn their lives around without going to jail. Some 86 percent of participants graduate from her drug program; of those, 92 percent stay drug free.

“If I was 40, this would be all glamorous for me. But I’m 60, and I’m on a mission.”

Her financial backing comes from former Target CEO George Jones, one of the show’s executive producers. Jones’ daughter died of a drug overdose. Everybody on the series’ cast, from bailiff to prosecutor, gets paid as they would if they were working their jobs off-screen, Gunn said.

Taping is done in Gunn’s old courtroom at the former 100-plus-year-old Washington County courthouse; the show leases the space just for Last Shot. Gunn retired as judge before taking the show. Gunn said she wanted to keep it in Northwest Arkansas because “that’s where the need is.”

After the show debuted in September 2011, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) criticized Gunn for casting individuals while still involved in substance abuse treatment. Her rise to TV fame was also frowned upon by state judicial ethics regulators. Those who go before her in court get free treatment at one of three centers, one of which is Springdale-based Ozark Guidance.

Tom Petrizzo, president and CEO of Ozark Guidance, was watching the HLN cable news network when Gunn got her Emmy. He said he finds Last Shot to be “tasteful” and of “above-average quality.”

“I’m proud of her, but I’m more pleased for the participants,” he said.

About 25 people who appeared on the show have sought and received treatment.

“It’s a vehicle to help people,” Petrizzo said of the show.

Since the awards, Gunn’s producers have inquiries from some of the networks and have had discussions about appearing on additional shows. They already have enough material to start on a second year in scattered syndication.

“I just want to find the right home,” for the show, Gunn said.

In the meantime, she and her daughter will continue to practice a little law, which was her intent for retirement all along.